Inter-faith collaboration needed to achieve shared objectives: Panel

(From left) Moderator Jack Meng-Tat Chia, adviser to King Mohammed VI of Morocco Andre Azoulay, Professor Ashiwa Yoshiko and UN Environment Programme's Faith for Earth Initiative director Iyad Abumoghli at the Raffles City Convention Centre on Sept 7, 2022. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - Different faiths can find common ground on issues such as climate change, peace-building, social justice and cohesion. There should also be inter-religious collaboration to help people find ways to achieve such shared objectives.

This was the view shared by speakers in a discussion on "How diversity can be harnessed for the common good" on Wednesday, the second day of the International Conference on Cohesive Societies (ICCS), a three-day global interfaith conference at the Raffles City Convention Centre.

They said that all religions uphold high values and moral principles. There are more shared than diverse views among them, and there should be a rallying call for all faiths to come together for humanity's common good.

Dr Iyad Abumoghli, founder and director of the United Nations Environment Programme's Faith for Earth Initiative, said all religions share strong ethics of environmental care and provide resilience to communities affected by climate change.

He advocates inter-faith collaboration in tackling the climate crisis and achieving sustainable development.

"Despite the great diversity of religions, they all recognise that human beings are fundamentally related to the environment," he said. "All religions agree on a human, spiritual and moral responsibility towards the earth."

Besides inter-faith collaboration, religious leaders can also work with scientific institutions and policymaking bodies to build ethical behaviour and resolve conflicts, without politicising religions. The value systems of religions and the political governance systems are complementary.

The ICCS is a good example of how both can work together, said professor of anthropology and global studies at Hitotsubashi University Yoshiko Ashiwa, who is also founding director of its Institute for the Study of Peace and Reconciliation.

"I'm very much impressed that the Singapore Government behind this conference has invited different religious leaders, groups and practitioners, and government people together," she said, adding that this is a much needed platform for them to communicate and network.

Mr Andre Azoulay, adviser to King Mohammed VI of Morocco, said diversity is often viewed as a problem, not an asset, and that education is vital. He shared how his Jewish teachers taught him to always give a chance to others so that they enjoy the same dignity, freedom and sovereignty as himself.

The speakers were also asked about the recent repeal of 377A by the Singapore Government, a British colonial era law that criminalised sex between men.

Mr Azoulay said that polarisation should be avoided. Prof Ashiwa said this is where the rights of civil societies come in, on top of one's religious identity, and Dr Abumoghli added it is up to the divine to judge. "What I care for, is if you are a good neighbour... and if we both serve the nation, the globe, the international community as we should," he said.

Organised by the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) and supported by the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, the ICCS is themed Confident Identities, Connected Communities.

First held in 2019, it is attended by over 800 delegates from more than 40 countries this year.

Join ST's WhatsApp Channel and get the latest news and must-reads.